Not all knee replacement surgeries are the same. The size and location of the incision can vary, and the surgeon may use different tools and technologies to perform the surgery. The artificial knee components can also vary—for example, components may be standard, gender-specific, custom-made, or composed of non-traditional material(s), such as ceramic.
Potential variables in knee replacement surgery are discussed in this article. These variables, in addition to the surgeon’s experience and the patient’s overall health and knee anatomy, may affect post-surgical improvements in pain and knee function.
Minimally Invasive Knee Replacement Surgery
The goal of minimally invasive surgery is to preserve more muscle and other soft tissue around the knee, helping facilitate a faster and better recovery. A minimally invasive surgery uses a 3 to 6-inch incision, compared to an 8 to 12-inch incision for a traditional surgery. In addition, the knee cap is typically not disturbed and many soft tissues are pushed aside—rather than cut—to make room for the surgical procedure.
Minimally invasive knee replacement has become less popular in recent years.1 Less invasive surgical approaches are technically challenging surgeries and carry their own, different set of risks. For example, less invasive surgeries seem to have a higher risk of post-surgical alignment problems2 and nerve damage.3
Computer-assisted Knee Replacement Surgery
Computer-assisted knee replacement surgery is not common in the United States, perhaps because of its cost and the time it adds on to surgery. However, some studies suggest that computer-assisted surgery may provide better implant positioning and better alignment.4 One study comparing nearly 200 surgeries found that people who had computer assisted surgery had better knee function 5 years after surgery.5
Patients will want to consider these options but keep in mind a surgeon’s experience remains one of the most important factors. Certain surgical techniques and technologies have steep learning curves for surgeons. An experienced surgeon who uses a traditional surgical approach may offer better outcomes than a less experienced surgeon who is using the latest technology and methods.
Outpatient (Same Day) Knee Replacement
People who undergo outpatient knee replacement are discharged the same day they have surgery. Some evidence suggest that outpatient knee replacement surgery saves money and offers the same or better results for eligible patients, though more study is needed.9
Outpatient knee replacement is relatively uncommon. Many patients have other conditions, such as heart disease, that justify one or more nights of post-surgical observation at the hospital.10 In addition, many surgeons and patients simply prefer at least one night of post-surgical observation.